Memories of virtual children

I remember the warmth of the sun, the feel of breeze and the exotic scents that it brought. I remember friends and the spaces we made sacred by being there together.

But of course none of this had physical reality. Or even, in some cases, virtual reality. My memory filled in the details – the smells and warmth etc. It also conveniently forgot the physical space I happened to be in at the time, the instrumental actions I was taking with keyboard and mouse, the pain in my arms and fingers (though this is getting better now - thx all).

What started to strike me as I sifted through these memories was the sense of place I was getting. I don't simply mean the spatial sense but rather the virtual-phenomology of the experience, and I began to wonder what the cues were that that were building up the all encompassing sensation. The dots between which my mind was painting (Gestalting??) the rest of the scene as it were.

This all came to mind again the other evening in WoW. I was standing on a dock by a lake when suddenly three children ran past. Hold on I thought, I don't remember seeing them before. They might have always been there. The pattern of their run might be as predictable as the path the MOBs tread, but at the moment it seemed fresh and new. What's more it seemed like the kind of detail that I was probably not supposed to give primacy to but was an incidental to give the place some character.

On the whole I find much of WoW to be artificial and distancing, many surfaces are so obviously texture mapped and the images seem to be stretched and distorted a little too much. But now I'm discovering new areas the feeling of place is starting to flesh out.

SWG on the other hand does no seem to provide the same range of clues. NPCs seem much more robotic. Yet I still get some sense that is greater than the data presented. The only way I individuate these feelings are that WoW has a sense of place whereas SWG has a sense of landscape.

Similarly ATITD sometimes gives me a chill. It can feel so cold and lonely. I think that the sound of the wind combined with the emptiness of the desert, lack of NPS and low population overall add to this deep sense of emptiness that it can create – while camps by contrast can feel very homely.

Last night I logged into Guild Wars for the first time. These thoughts in my mind I immediately noticed the way that NPCs seem to have even more life to them, the addition of trails of footprints in sand and ripples when walking through water add even more layers.

Only time will tell what texture my memories have.


Comments on Memories of virtual children:

ren reynolds says:

Given that I was writing this I’m when Nathan created http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2005/05/the_world_in_yo.html >his last post - I’m starting to believe in memes.

Posted May 25, 2005 7:35:22 AM | link

ren reynolds says:

/Danked

Posted May 25, 2005 7:38:55 AM | link

Hellinar says:

Ren> The only way I individuate these feelings are that WoW has a sense of place whereas SWG has a sense of landscape. <

Very nicely put. Sums up my feelings too. It’s the sense of place that draws me back to WoW. Some considerable thought has gone into the design of places in WoW. They have a sense of being lived in, which I didn’t see in my brief stay in EQ2. Though that latter has more polygons, to my mind WoW has superior art.

I recently started a Dwarf Paladin in WoW. I usually play “flawed” characters in MMORPGs, which lets me experience the world in different ways on each pass through. In this case, my Paladin always walks, never runs. The Dwarf newbie area takes on a whole new sense of place when you walk rather than run through it. The “heroes” dashing about like mad chickens start to look a bit ridiculous. My Paladin is beginning to think the NPCs (who walk) are the only other sensible people in the place.

I’d agree on the “coldness” of ATiTD. I think part of it comes from a lack of first person perspective. Which ties in with the fact that most player actions are getting buildings to do things rather than your avatar to do things. I would like to see persistent avatars in ATITD, with much of the production happening when players are offline. That would give a much better sense of Egypt as an active world, as well as making the game much more casual friendly. Being able to see what your guildmates are up to, even if their Player is not present, would I think increase the sense of place. Place for me is part geography, but partly a sense of ongoing history.

Posted May 25, 2005 10:13:13 AM | link

Tess says:

Just as I randomly have flashbacks to real locations in my past, and the events which took place there, I occasionally remember glimmers of places I have been in MMORPGs, stored in my head, every bit as though they had been real spaces. However, these flashbacks are often of games that I have long since departed -- so there is a sense of loss associated with these memories, much as one might feel for a well-loved old condo that has long since changed hands and been remodeled.

Even if I went back today, it would be disappointing. In the mind's eye, the desert dunes are smooth, and not blocky. The giants have real faces, rather than painted-on scowls. The crocodiles move like efficient carnivores, and not like grotesque automatons. The virtual nature of the space is not the only reason to say that the place I remember never existed. As Ren says, "memory filled in the details."

I wonder, sometimes, how many of these spaces will come to haunt my head in the course of a lifetime. In twenty years, will I still remember the faces on the walls of Highpass Hold? Will I remember exploring Avalon for the first time with my red-headed friend? Will I remember the strange bird calls of Rubi-Ka? The buggy bridges of Shadowbane? The titanic statues of Paragon City? My lonely tailoring shop on Tatooine? Fishing for the first time in an icy lake in Dun Morogh?

What strange things to litter a brain! We learn things about our world, through our observation and manipulation of real spaces. So, I must wonder how these virtual spaces shape a person's mind. Does it change us?

Posted May 25, 2005 11:44:59 AM | link

Theo says:

I clearly remember my earliest experiences in EQ. Logging in that first time to Freeport at night...trying to figure out how to move, how to communicate...just looking all around and realizing that all these other characters running past with their glows and sparkles were real people just like me rather than NPC bots...it was amazing.

I remember timidly moving past the confines of the newbie garden into the edges of North Ro and seeing my first Dune Tarantula on the horizon...he looked so real through the atmospheric haze...or watching the sun set over the dunes. Yeah, the graphics were primitive even for the time, but the more experiences I had in Norrath the more it seemed like a real place to me...a second home.

It's tough to get that feeling in games now that I have an idea of what to expect, but there are still moments. Getting Hover in City of Heroes and watching my feet slowly leave the ground...chasing rooftops and blimps at a slow crawl and loving every second of it because I was flying!

Not quite what you were talking about, but the places we get attached to are the ones with which we have an emotional association. Graphics, and even gameplay, can only take that so far for so long.

Posted May 25, 2005 3:33:32 PM | link

magicback says:

For those who experienced VWs from an explorer perspective takes all the sensory input as is.

Memory does not fill in the blanks, but imagination does.

So when Marco Polo starts filling in the blanks for things he did not quite fully understand, tall tales are as tall as the person can imagine it.

For us the first time we played Zork or something similar gave us a sense of what is to come. Now we can sense what we imagined would occur with our eyes and ears.

Perhaps one day we can smell the moisture of a foggy morning or the buzzing of insects in a jungle.

Our VW experiences is as real as any (hallucinations, anyone?)

Right now we map our VW experiences to what we know in the RL. But sometimes, I start mapping the RL to my VW experience. People starts looking like Elves, dwarves, etc. Cars are tanks of a future age. That supervisor is an Ogre boss that I gotta beat to get the cool loot :)

Posted May 25, 2005 8:54:06 PM | link

ren reynolds says:

magicback > Memory does not fill in the blanks, but imagination does.

Be interesting to get a cognitive psychologist’s view on this. I think that there is a difference between the contemporaneous sense of being in a virtual world and the memory of it. And I’m not sure its ‘imagination’ that has a part in either as I thought that that referred to an active faculty, hence the tentative reference to Gestalt in the post.

What I really wondered was what the key points are that create this sense of place. As I get the feeling the different VWs achieve this to different degrees. Do text worlds do it even better I wonder?

The thing is I really do have confused memories. I’ve started talking to someone about being somewhere once and then realised that it was in a VW; similarly watching Episode III - when I saw Naboo it -felt- like home.

I’ve certainly had the experience of being somewhere and suddenly linking that it was very like somewhere virtual. Once I saw an arrangement of trees that seemed exactly the same as those in my camp at ATITD – I almost fell over.

Now I’ve had these experience in respect of VWs (graphical ones) but I can’t remember having them in respect of novels, but mb that is simply because I spread my time between text books, vw’s and things that pay the mortgage.

Posted May 26, 2005 3:47:22 AM | link

magicback says:

Sorry if I sounded absolute on that comment :)

I have the same gestalt or deja vu experience reading novels too.

My one major indicator of "personal significance" is that you start dreaming about it.

Do you dream about you controlling your avatar to do something in a VW or do you dream about you doing something in a VW first-person perspective?

That sense of wonder or sense of dread sometimes come in a first-person perspective.

In this way, that slow walking dwarf paladin sets in the memory and I'll make up a story (rationalize) why the dwarf is walking as such.

And if the dwarf walk is on repeat like the black cat in Matrix, I might start think that it's a bug: ghosts are just manifestation of problems with the matrix system.

Frank

Posted May 26, 2005 11:06:43 AM | link

AcidCat says:

What a wonderful little piece you have written here. A simple example of what keeps me playing these games, those moments when you lose yourself in that world and the memories that result ... WoW has provided many such moments. A night in Loch Modan, a wolf cries off in the distance and I can almost feel the cool evening breeze ... emerging from the lush forests of Feralas into Thousand Needles, green giving way to sandy rock, the afternoon sky above a brilliant blue as small birds circle in the distance above .. moments where your imagination is completely engaged, participating in the dreamworld life of your avatar.

Posted May 26, 2005 3:07:05 PM | link

Xanthippe says:

The last similarly wonderful moment I had playing a mmog was when I got my first mount in WoW. I spent about 4 hours merely riding from one part of the world to another.

Posted May 26, 2005 8:34:02 PM | link

Tess says:

Two points on Ren's latest remarks:

1.) Regarding text worlds:

You know, I never felt the same sense of space in my text worlds as I do in my graphical worlds. TinyMUSH rooms, to me, feel a lot like the sets for a weekly television show. Most of the LP-MUDs I played had a very anything-goes nature to their construction, so they tended to thread together like a barrage of pop-culture stream-of-consciousness college student dreams. I have seen text spaces that exhibited brilliant craftsmanship, but they didn't imprint on the spatial parts of my brain quite the way that graphical spaces do.

2.) Regarding similar spaces in the real world:

When I was visiting Lisbon, and ran around on the walls of the Castelo do Sao Jorge, I was half expecting to see the hordes of Midgard charging up the hill from below! It was eerily like standing on the walls of a keep in DAOC. The stone was a little too yellowish, but wow. I found myself wishing that my friends were there to run around on the walls with me.

This leads me to wonder what it must be like for soldiers who play mission simulations prior to going into real missions. What would it feel like to be in that space for real, after exploring it virtually?

Posted May 27, 2005 1:35:54 AM | link

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